UCF College of Medicine faculty and M.D. students honored America’s oldest incorporated African-American municipality February 1 by conducting health screenings at Zora 2014, an annual festival celebrating author Zora Neale Hurston and her hometown of Eatonville.

Under the supervision of core and volunteer faculty members, students performed blood pressure, blood sugar and obesity checks, and for the first time also screened participants for glaucoma and vision problems. They assisted about 75 people, many of whom said they did not have access to healthcare or physicians.  One of their patients, a young man who was just released from the hospital because of dangerously high blood pressure, was unsure what to do next. Faculty and students gave him information on medical services for the uninsured and lifestyle changes he can make to help his condition.

“Our students learned something about a community and the challenges that real people face,” said Dr. Lisa Barkley, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion who is board certified in family, adolescent and sports medicine and works with the Eatonville community. “This kind of service is an opportunity to apply what they’re learning, to teach each other and to interact with a community that needs our services.”

Even before they arrived at Zora’s health village, students encountered residents and visitors eager for their help. One man approached two medical students in their white coats near the food court. He wanted advice on how to eat healthier – and enjoy his favorite dish of seafood without frying it. A woman who was one of the first in line to get her eyes checked proudly said, “I wouldn’t let anyone but your medical students do this because I’m a UCF Knight.”

The glaucoma and eye screenings were the idea of the college’s student Ophthalmology Interest Group. Volunteer faculty member Dr. Deepak Raja, the group’s faculty advisor, joined students in checking participants’ eyesight and checking them for glaucoma, a disease where fluid pressure in the eye increases, leading to progressive, irreversible vision loss. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness and can be especially dangerous in medically underserved communities where residents don’t have the resources to detect the disease before it threatens their sight.

Second-year M.D. student David Griffin is president of the ophthalmology group and said he never thought about specializing in vision care until he shadowed an ophthalmologist performing cataract surgery. The simple procedure renewed the patient’s eyesight. “I saw what a positive impact a 15-minute surgery could have on someone’s life,” David said.